Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

Florida schools, South Carolina move home games ahead of Ian

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Three Sunshine State universities took steps to salvage home football games as Hurricane Ian approached.

Florida moved its game against Eastern Washington from Saturday to Sunday. Central Florida did the same with its game against SMU. South Florida relocated its Saturday game against East Carolina from Tampa, Florida, to Boca Raton.

Although South Carolina is a safer distance from the major storm, the Gamecocks didn’t want to wait to make a decision regarding their game against South Carolina State. Those schools will now play Thursday night, two days earlier than previously scheduled and at least a day before Ian reaches the area.

Stetson canceled its home game against San Diego scheduled for Saturday in the Pioneer Football League.

No. 23 Florida State and 22nd-ranked Wake Forest, meanwhile, are “closely monitoring” the storm while expecting to play as planned in Tallahassee.

“We remain confident that we will be able to safely host Saturday’s football game against Wake Forest at its scheduled kickoff time,” FSU athletic director Michael Alford said Wednesday.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson was cautiously optimistic.

“It’s one of those deals that you certainly hope that the ACC office makes the right decision,” Clawson said. “And if they don’t, we will. We’re not going to travel down there and put anybody at risk. … Obviously, this is in the league’s hands and Florida State’s hands. We would hope that they make the right decision. But if we feel there’s any danger to our players going down there, we’re not going to go.”

The storm is expected to hit the state’s southwest coast Wednesday. It tore into western Cuba on Tuesday as a major hurricane, with nothing to stop it from intensifying into a catastrophic Category 4 storm before it hits Florida, where officials ordered 2.5 million people to evacuate before it crashes ashore Wednesday.

Universities across the state closed campuses for the week. But football is big business and a much-needed revenue source for many. Playing the cross-country game at Florida guarantees Eastern Washington $750,000, a significant payday for a school with an athletic budget around $17.5 million.

South Carolina State also relies on its “paycheck game” from South Carolina.

“There’s no perfect plan, but we’re trying to put together the best thing for our team at this moment,” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said.

The Gamecocks last moved a game due to weather in 2016, playing a scheduled Saturday game on Sunday.

The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers relocated their football operations to the Miami area Tuesday in preparation for Sunday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Buccaneers are expected to practice at the Dolphins’ training complex in Miami Gardens starting Wednesday. So far, there has been no change for the game, which is scheduled for Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

“We are not discussing any potential (relocation) sites,” the NFL said Wednesday in a statement. “We continue to monitor the storm and are in constant communication with the clubs and local authorities. Decision could be made as late as Friday.”

The Dolphins play at Cincinnati on Thursday night. They changed their travel plans for Wednesday and are leaving a few hours earlier than originally scheduled, in anticipation of severe weather.

Also in Tampa, the Rays have other concerns besides clinching an AL wild card. As they opened a three-game series in Cleveland, players and coaches were keeping an eye on the impending hurricane. The Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area was last directly hit by a hurricane in 1921.

“Watching the news, watching the computer,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know the Bay area has been pretty fortunate over many, many years now, but just thinking about everybody there and hopefully people have done right to prepare and wherever it goes, it doesn’t hit as hard as the speculation.”

Meanwhile, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning postponed preseason games scheduled to be played at home Wednesday against Carolina and Thursday against Nashville.

The NBA’s Orlando Magic called off practice on what would have been their second day of training camp Wednesday, and said their plans for Thursday were uncertain. Forecasters say Orlando – in the central part of the state – could see flooding and, at minimum, tropical storm conditions as Ian nears the coast.